Social Media Promotion – Skill and Transparency Required

It’s a lot more than pressing a button (Image courtesy of memeburn.com)

Recently I got involved in a LinkedIn discussion thread that combined two interests of mine, social media and BMW maintenance. The BMW Group on LinkedIn is a fairly active one. It’s also an open group, so this link should resolve to the thread even if you are not a member of LinkedIn.

The member who started the conversation identifies himself as the founder of Openbay, a Massachusetts based startup that aims to help consumers more easily and economically service their vehicles. The discussion promotes a recent company blog post on how to safely deal with a dead battery.

So far, so good. Promoting your business via social media channels is a sound strategy. I counsel clients on how to do this every day. However, this promotion fails in three areas and in my opinion could actually damage the Openbay brand.

Rule Number One — Understand the Community

Promoting a new car maintenance service in a LinkedIn BMW group — sounds good at first glance, right? But look a little deeper and a disconnect shows up pretty quickly. First, the information offered in the blog post being promoted is basic stuff, useful to the novice but very generic.

The audience in the BMW Group is made up primarily of BMW enthusiasts (duh), who are primarily interested in BMW specific topics. Additionally, a large number are interested in doing work on their vehicles themselves, so they are probably not a good prospect demographic for Openbay. Further, almost every issue on a BMW is complicated, with many members having strong opinions on the proper procedures.

Just such a debate spurred the comments to this thread. The conversation was around whether the engine in the vehicle charging the dead battery should be on or off, not about Openbay.

Rule Number Two – Respect Your Audience

Always be transparent in social networks, and try not to lapse into corporate speak if challenged. On the first point Openbay does well — the poster is clearly identified as the founder of the company, and the posting leads with a pitch for the company. Nothing wrong with that at all.

However, when the information provided in the blog post is challenged, he keeps stressing how all they wanted to do was inform the public and start a debate online. Those are possible outcomes, but the purpose of the discussion was to promote Openbay.

And there’s nothing wrong with that! Leveling with the commenters on this point would have strengthened Openbay’s position.

Rule Number Three — Be Permission Based

The biggest mistake Openbay makes is cutting and pasting the comments from LinkedIn to their company blog without permission. This makes it appear as if the conversation was occurring on Openbay’s blog, not LinkedIn. I’m not sure what LinkedIn’s official policy is on this question, but permission from the commenter should be obtained first.

I can understand the temptation. I’ve got a number of clients who would prefer to have these conversations happen on their sites, not just inside LinkedIn groups. But the proper response is simply to ask the commenter if they would mind a reprint — many are happy to say yes.

Openbay also attempts to censor the conversation by not repurposing any comments on their site that challenge their post in any way. None of them are profane or inappropriate, they simply challenge Openbay’s expertise. This is not transparent and speaks to a desire to control the conversation, which will damage their brand in social media communities.

I pointed out to Openbay that they should ask permission from commenters before repurposing the discussion thread. After having answered every other comment directed to them, my comment was ignored. See Rule 2 above.

Based on the brief company description provided, the Openbay service sounds like a reverse auction process that could very well be useful to consumers in need of car maintenance and repair. If the company addresses the points above, it will be more successful promoting itself through social media channels.

August 31, 2012 at 9:14 am 2 comments

Good Times at BimmerFest East 2012

This weekend was BimmerFest East, a huge meetup of BMW owners organized and sponsored by Turner Motorsports. These events have been going on for a few years on the west coast, and came east for the first time last year. Like last year, it was held at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, MD.

I caravaned up with some fellow E39 M5 owners I had first met last fall. It was good to see those guys again, and meet some new enthusiasts as well. Some came from as far away as Texas and California.

Some hardcore BMW and automotive knowledge represented in this group

Thanks to all those who helped organize meeting up Saturday AM in Columbia. Despite the inevitable toll booth disconnect we maintained an impressive convoy of M5s up to Aberdeen. When we got there almost the entire parking lot was packed with hundreds of amazing cars. The official registration number was over 1,500. Weather was overcast but the rain held off and the temperature was very comfortable for August.

Here’s a thread that runs down the winners of the Stock and Modified competitions. And here are some of my favorites – click to enlarge.

Some of our cars lined up

An incredibly beautiful 2002 Z8, first place winner in stock category

1975 E9 3.0 CSL

1 M Coupe — Valencia Orange Looks Reddish In Person

Beautiful E30 M3 in special order Macao blue metallic

Project Car — Euro E36 Wagon with Turbo’d S52 Transplant

BimmerFest Booth Babes

August 28, 2012 at 7:50 am Leave a comment

What Should Twitter Be When It Grows Up?

Graphic courtesy of GigaOm

Over at GigaOm Mathew Ingram is doing some excellent reporting on the evolution of Twitter. Twitter is evolving from a sort of free informational utility to a media company that uses other people’s content to sell advertising and drive eyeballs to other media partners.

The company is adding features like expanded tweets and providing curated editorial products for NASCAR (above) and NBC Universal. It’s cutting off API access to companies like LinkedIn, Instagram and most recently Tumblr. Twitter wants to more fully control the platform, the content and the user experience.

How you feel about these changes depends on your perspective. Advertisers are no doubt pleased. Developers of apps that depend on access to the Twitter API, probably not so much. As Ingram points out, the only opinion that really matters is that of the users. They (we) are creating the content that is the foundation of Twitter’s advertising model.

Why do we do it? Twitter offers a lot of utility at no cost to the user. It can be a distribution channel, a research channel and a personalized news channel. I enjoy using Twitter personally, and I counsel my clients on how to leverage it to further their business goals.

Twitter is a very prominent example of what I like to call the (largely) unspoken quid pro quo online. Users get cool, free tools in exchange for sharing personal information. The companies that offer the most popular tools are given huge amounts of consumer data, which they eventually attempt to monetize.

Which is exactly what Twitter is doing. It will need to balance the amount of advertising presented to users so it doesn’t damage the experience, as all media companies do. But unlike any other media companies, Twitter’s users are also the “talent,” creating all the content that Twitter curates, analyzes and puts at the disposal of advertisers. Never before have the terms “the customer is king” and “it’s all about the content” been so intertwined.

Many of the features that have made Twitter so popular were developed because of the company’s open API. The challenge will be for the company to continue to develop new products and services that excite users, as well as advertisers. If the quid pro quo becomes less attractive and we stop sharing, the company fails.

August 24, 2012 at 6:28 pm Leave a comment

DIY BMW Tune-Up

My 13 year old M3 is approaching 60,000 miles. In BMW vernacular, that means the car should receive an Inspection II service. An Inspection II involves a large number of things getting inspected (hence the name), but when you look at the work actually done it boils down to a general tune-up. Spark plugs, air filter, fuel filter, cabin filter and oil change.

Much of this work is straightforward and doesn’t require much mechanical skill. Instead of spending $800-$1,000 for someone else to do it, I’m doing the job myself. To make the job easier to tackle I’m doing the work in stages.

This weekend I replaced my spark plugs and air filter. This excellent, detailed video from Bavarian Autosport was a great resource:

The video shows the entire ignition coils being replaced, which is expensive overkill at this mileage. Replacing the spark plugs and the boots is more than sufficient. When you remove the old boot and place the new one on the new plug, you can feel a clear click as it engages. That’s the only thing I’d add to what is shown in the video, which is spot on.

Cover off, coils ready for removal

Six Dead Soldiers — Thanks for the First 13 Years

My air filter is not stock. Soon after I purchased the car, I had a Conforti cold air intake (CAI) installed. The theory behind a CAI is that by making the air colder, it’s more dense. That increases the percentage of fuel combined with the air at detonation, meaning more power.

That’s the theory anyway. In reality the performance gain isn’t that much. Modern BMW engines (normally aspirated, not turbos) are very optimized stock, and harvesting power gains is difficult. My car has the CAI, a Conforti software download (known as the Shark) and a Dinan exhaust. All of that probably produces 15 extra horsepower, maybe 20 tops.

Unfortunately, after I had the CAI installed I never cleaned it. Periodically the foam filter needs to be cleaned and reoiled, and somehow it just never was on my radar. So the foam deteriorated to the point where I needed to replace it. Paying $85 for a new piece of foam with a metal funnel on the back was my penance.

New Filter Installed

Check back here soon for a report on the fuel filter and the cabin air filter. Last month I did my cooling system replacement and rear shocks, and was lucky enough to have a master mechanic give the underbody an inspection and a thumbs up. After this tune-up is complete, I’ll be a set of front shocks and a brake job from a total maintenance refresh on my car. (I did my oil barely a year and 4K miles ago so that can wait until spring).

And by then, it will be time for more preventative maintenance, or the unexpected repair. So it goes if you want your out of warranty BMW to run like new. But it’s well worth it, especially if you DIY the simple stuff.

August 20, 2012 at 9:29 pm 1 comment

Social Media Done Right is Quality Over Quantity

Image courtesy of polprav.blogspot.com

My partner Marc Hausman wrote an excellent column last week for the Washington Business Journal. In it he introduces a concept we’ve been stressing to clients and prospects — lead introduction vs. lead generation.

What’s the difference? Really it comes down to numbers. Our B2B and B2G clients are usually selling a specialized and relatively high priced solution to a very defined set of prospects. They know who these people are in most cases. Where they need help is in starting and maintaining a productive dialogue. That’s where social media can shine — we help out clients transition from interruption marketing to conversational marketing.

Lead generation on the other hand often descends into a numbers game. For consumer markets and for relatively undifferentiated products that might be fine. But it doesn’t translate well into B2B and B2G. Unfortunately, this fact isn’t reflected in how many marketing departments are evaluated.

We recently had a conversation with a prospect who asked us if we could guarantee her 500-700 leads per month! We said heck no, and the vast majority would be worthless anyway. She then told us in confidence that her performance review is based on volume and cost per lead, not quality. So anything that brings in big numbers cheap is the way to go.

I thought about that when I read this excellent article from John Battelle. He points to some of the ways shysters are gaming Twitter and Facebook advertising and ties it to the early days of Google Adwords. Quoting Fast Company, he makes an amazing statement that almost half of the followers brands accumulate on Twitter are bots, not real people.

He also links to a site that promises 1,000 Twitter followers for $17 — now that’s an excellent “cost per lead” of under 2 cents! Of course there’s no way of knowing how many are actual people.

What really hit home was this quote, where he talks about what marketers will do under pressure from their bosses for higher metrics:

Back when I was reporting for The Search, I explored the gray market that had sprung up around Google (and still flourishes, despite Google’s disputed attempts to beat it back). Fact is, wherever there is money to be made, and ignorance or desperation exists in some measure, shysters will flourish. And a further fact is this: Marketers, faced with CMO-level directives to “increase my follower/friend counts,” will turn to the gray market. Just as they did back in the early 2000s, when the directive was “make me rank higher in search.”

There are plenty of ways to address quantity and fill the top of the funnel — email campaigns, webinars, advertising. A lead introduction campaign works well in conjunction with such activities.

But expecting social media to generate huge numbers of real leads in B2B or B2G niches is opening the door to an empty numbers game. It won’t produce sales, and it will probably turn off the sales team and discourage them from trying new approaches.

August 17, 2012 at 9:54 am Leave a comment

Critics Debate What Makes a Good Wine List

WINE & DINE COLUMN

Can’t we all just get along? (Image courtesy of Palate Press)

My latest WashingtonExec Wine and Dine column was published today. It highlights a debate in the wine world that started between the New York Post and New York Times wine critics, and has spread from there.

What kind of wine list do you expect when you go out for a fine meal? Do you want to learn something new, or enjoy a wine you already know? Does it have to be one or the other?

In the end diners will answer this question through the restaurants they choose to frequent. Here’s to enjoying wine, rather than debating wine.

August 15, 2012 at 11:19 am Leave a comment

E36 M3 Rear Shock Replacement

Last week I described replacing most of the cooling system components in my M3. While doing that job, I also replaced my rear shock absorbers.

My car only has 57,000 miles, but it is more than 13 years old. While replacing and reinforcing the rear shock mounts (RSMs) last year, I noticed the shocks were pretty worn. Since the RSM job requires removal of the rear shocks, I also saw first hand how straightforward the job is.

It’s literally three bolts. Two of them attach to the rear shock mount, which you access from inside the trunk after removing the carpeting. Underneath the car, the shock is attached to the rear trailing arm by a single large hex bolt.

I decided to go with the same shocks that came stock on the car, from BMW supplier Sachs. I considered Bilstein aftermarket shocks, but decided there was no reason. I’ve owned the car since it had less than 16,000 miles on it, so I remember the ride when it was practically new. That’s the feel I wanted back, the handling that earned the Car & Driver crown as the best handling car in America back in 1997.

It Beat Cars Costing Six Figures

The front shocks replacement is more involved, so I’ll need to tackle that job separately. While the car was on the lift at the Auto Skills Center, the master mechanic at the facility was kind enough to inspect the underside of the car. All the bushings and ball joints still look good.

This car can still outperform 98 percent of the cars on the road today, and I enjoy doing what I can to maintain it properly. Doing that is a lot less expensive than a new car payment every month.

Top of shock mount, inside trunk

Old Shock – Note Hex Bolt

New Shock Installed

August 9, 2012 at 10:17 pm Leave a comment

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